- Stylistic Approaches to Nigerian Fiction by Daria Tunca
by Daria Tunca
New York; London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
ix + 203 pp. ISBN 9781137264404 cloth.
From her home university in Liège, Belgium, Daria Tunca edits an online bibliography of works by and about Ben Okri and maintains a website on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Tunca therefore intimately knows who she terms the “post-Achebean” generation or the second and third generation Nigerian writers, that is, along with Okri and Adichie, Chris Abani and Uzodinma Iweala, who are under scrutiny here. These award-winning writers’ claim to fame would have been less noteworthy had they written in Yoruba or Igbo in a country like Nigeria, whose linguistic heterogeneity draws together more than 450 languages and peoples. [End Page 234] They chose English and their writing style is what Daria Tunca examines in this compelling companion piece to Vicki Briault’s Emerging Traditions: Toward a Post-colonial Stylistics of Black South African Fiction in English (2011).
Falling into six chapters, the book provides a meticulous “analysis of (literary) texts using linguistic description,” after Mick Short’s 1996 definition of stylistics. This method of textual interpretation is here applied to seven works through the use of Igbo proverbial folktales, or ifo, and proverbs, or ílú (a male art here appropriated by women), as well as transitivity and agency in Adichie’s 2003 Purple Hibiscus (chapter 2); ideology and polyphony (i.e., underlexicalization, schemas, vocatives, exemplification, and deictics) in her 2009 Biafran civil war novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (chapter 3); conceptual metaphor theory applied to Okri’s 1981 Landscapes Within and its 1996 rewriting under the title Dangerous Love (chapter 4); bitextual “deviant” and incantatory poetics in Abani’s 2006 Becoming Abigail (chapter 5); as well as the child soldier’s experimental idiom, which Iweala invented after his hyper-precursor Ken Saro-Wiwa, in Beasts of No Nation (2005), and the presuppositions and “implicatures” in this other Biafran civil war novel, Abani’s 2007 Song for the Night (chapter 6). In her first chapter, Tunca provides a useful incursion into the historiography of African stylistics, heralding Nigerian critic Emmanuel Ngara’s Stylistic Criticism and the African Novel (1982) as audaciously contemporaneous with Geoffrey Leech and Mick Short’s Style in Fiction (1981) and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (1980). The author cautions that we should not expect strategies of linguistic decolonization such as “Wole Soyinka’s creative use of Nigerian Pidgin, Gabriel Okara’s experimental prose (which used his native Ijaw as a syntactic basis), or Amos Tutuola’s Yoruba-tinted English” (4). It is true that I have already examined these experimentations by West African writers and their francophone contemporaries in The African Palimpsest, but the author is too humble when she claims that her analysis bears on “less spectacular markers of linguistic creativity” (4).
The spectacle that Tunca proffers is indeed of another kind, as the reader is taken gently by the hand through many a “garden path,” that is, borrowing from Roger Fowler, “a psycholinguistic phenomenon whereby the beginning of a sentence misleads readers into making an interpretation that turns out to be incorrect,” and through diverse Nigerian “mind-styles” (55). While making broad incursions into cognitive linguistics, the book is an exemplar of “disciplinary mongrelisation” (115) as it delves into the minutiae of language (re)presentation and stylistic micro-effects, which are verifiable in the punctiliousness these writers displayed in rewriting their own work several times, thereby reaffirming that “form, and not just subject matter, determines meaning” (21). Evan Maina Mwangi lamented in Africa Writes Back to Self that postcolonial criticism has privileged the “writing back” gesture at the expense of “internal heteroglossia” within Africa and between African texts. Daria Tunca has provided countless examples of such internal heteroglossia, enough “for making me to think,” as Iweala would write.